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US in Grenada: the political costs

As the combat diminished on Grenada, the Reagan administration found itself fighting public-relations battles on several other fronts - both domestic and foreign.

The administration was taking a beating on the foreign front from a number of nations, including allies who criticized the Grenada invasion. But the President was picking up some points on the home front, thanks to American students evacuated from Grenada who said they had felt they were in danger and needed rescuing.

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At the same time, the administration was criticized by major American news organizations, which complained that their access to the invasion was unnecessarily restricted. Some congressmen complained that the notification letter President Reagan sent to Congress Tuesday evening concerning the invasion of Grenada did not meet the requirements of the 1972 War Powers Resolution. Others questioned whether the administration had made a serious effort to negotiate an orderly evacuation of Americans from the island before moving to invade.

In justifying the invasion, meanwhile, some administration officials have now added a fourth reason, related to the Cuban presence on the island, to the three purposes originally given for the action by President Reagan. The President had said that the action was designed first and foremost to protect innocent lives, including those of Americans, but that it was also meant to (2) forestall further chaos on Grenada and (3) restore order and democratic institutions. Officials now say that they had evidence that just before the invasion, Cuba had sent a high-level delegation to Grenada in possible preparation for a Cuban military buildup. The invasion, they say, may have nipped such a buildup in the bud.

Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that the American attacking force on Grenada had expected to encounter Cuban construction workers who might be armed. He said they met well-prepared Cubans with a large number of arms, including antiaircraft guns. A Cuban colonel was in command, he said.

Nonetheless, military men considered the US losses up to this point as light for an operation of this size: 8 killed, 8 missing, and 39 wounded. But launching the invasion and getting the US troops on the island obviously proved a great deal easier than taking the last strongholds of resistance. Some fighting was still reported as of Thursday, and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger said that the American troops might have to stay on Grenada for some weeks.

Larry Speakes, White House deputy press secretary, said the US troops on Grenada hoped to defeat the remaining resistance there on Thursday. The Defense Department announced that a group of 20 to 30 reporters would be permitted to go to Grenada from nearby Barbados.

In preventing reporters from visiting the island earlier, officials said that their main concern was first to preserve secrecy and surprise in the attack, and then to make certain that the safety of reporters was ensured once they were allowed on the island. Mr. Speakes said there was also concern that newsmen covering the initial stages of the invasion might distract commanders. Some reporters suspected, however, that the administration was influenced by the example of the British, who carefully controlled press coverage during their campaign last year on the Falkland Islands.

Another difficult issue facing the administration was the question of whether it had made a serious effort to arrange an evacuation of Americans from the island before resorting to military force. White House officials confirmed that two days before the invasion Grenada's leftist-led military council sent a cable to the US Embassy in Barbados and told American diplomats that the safety of US citizens was assured and that Americans would be allowed to leave the island. Speakes said, however, that the administration distrusted the assurances because of the apparent instability of the ruling group on the island.

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The administration got support for its position from a number of the American students evacuated by the US military from Grenada on Wednesday. The majority of students in the first wave of 69 evacuees seemed to think they had been in danger and welcomed the invasion.

Charles Modica, chancellor of the St. George's Medical College in Grenada, who was in the United States shortly before and during the invasion, had originally criticized the action. He had charged that the medical students on the island were not in danger and that President Reagan took unnecessary risks in using force. After a briefing at the US State Department on Wednesday, however, Mr. Modica said he was convinced that the invasion was justified.

While criticism of the invasion from allied nations in Europe and Latin America was sharp, one senior State Department official predicted to aides Thursday that the criticism would be short-lived if the US troops fighting on Grenada ''get in and get out.''

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